Losing the amazingly talented Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) last month requires us all to pause and reflect on how much this massively talented director brought to the horror genre. His ingenuity with characters, story, images, and gore set a unique standard for films and very few in the industry could even begin to touch the level of imagination Gordon brought to all of his projects...
...When contemplating all the great works of Gordon, one movie maybe stands out from the others due to its themes, creativity, and above all else, it’s ability to bring new viewers to horror. The story focuses on a bespectacled mad scientist who creates a way to go against the laws of nature. After the experiment predictably goes horribly wrong, the heroes encounter monsters, extreme unworldly elements, and even possible familial cannibalism. Of course, I am talking about the 1989 release of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Children of the 80s and early 90s most likely experienced Gordon for the first time when he teamed up with Disney to bring some PG rated horror to the masses.
Now I know when looking for interesting articles about Stuart Gordon (especially in relation to the horror genre) fans want to talk about his more well-known films and want the document to include such key words as “Crampton,” “Lovecraft”, or “Combs.” However, Gordon’s horror talents spread far beyond his use of re-animated corpses and castle-dwelling freaks. In the late 80s, Stuart Gordon and his collaborator Brian Yuzna wanted to make a film for their young children. So, a few years after the science-obsessed Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) shocked adult-movie goers in Re-Animator, a more loveable inventor named Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) introduced a younger audience to the joys of witnessing a mad-scientist at work.
Obviously, one glance at Gordon’s resume would make Disney incredibly weary of hiring on an infamous horror director, but the studio could not pass up such a loveable story and employed the father of Re-animator, hoping his genius would strike again. Just on a more subdued level. Emerging from his love for the genre, Gordon finds influence for his children’s film in classic horror contributions such as Them! (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In the final cut of the film, Gordon earns the credit of “story creator,” but originally, he was slated to direct the film. However, due to an illness, Gordon had to pass up the director’s chair, so unfortunately for horror fans (fortunately for Disney) we can only dream of what horror-infused beauty the film could have been. Rumor has it, Gordon wanted severed heads to appear somewhere in the film.
Even without Gordon calling all the shots on the set, the film still holds a significant amount of horror themes that even the Disneyfied sugar-coating could not entirely hide. For those unfamiliar with the plot of Honey, let me at least explain the big picture. A scientist with very little going for him career wise, invents a machine which shrinks matter to bug-sized proportions. The children of the scientist, along with the neighbor kids accidentally shrink themselves and then get tossed to the curb with the garbage. The kids must then venture across the backyard in hopes of returning to the house and finding a way to re-bigify themselves. So far the plot sounds fairly innocuous, but when you filter the whole story through a Stuart Gordon-lens, you realize the terror you will find in your own backyard.
One aspect of the film which sets Honey apart from other children’s movies and firmly solidifies the movie’s place in the horror category comes from the extreme level of peril the kids must constantly face. And I mean real peril! Not just cartoonish slapstick incidents which demonstrates “play” violence, but actual situations where audiences young and old might forget they are watching Disney and assume the leads might actually die on screen. Falling from great heights, experiencing a near-death drowning scene, dangling inches from the giant spinning blades of a lawn-mower, and all of these events involved kids. Besides the looming danger from the everyday objects, the backyard also provides a cavalcade of creatures which add to the other-worldly experience. Gordon even casted a giant monster as the loving pet of the kids. A massive robotic-puppet ant would normally invoke nightmares in small children, but Gordon’s charm and insight found a way to make the character of Antie endearing. However, the film is not completely void of any insect-related terror or tension because Gordon introduces an even more traumatizing scene when the beloved pet must battle a scorpion and consequently dies. Gordon’s master of the genre not only brings forth emotion due to fear of imminent pain or death, but he also teaches us to fall in the love with the grotesque.
We will never stop missing Stuart Gordon and all the magic he brought to films, but luckily his disturbing visions and haunting imagination will last forever. So, for all you big horror fans thinking about exposing your little horror fans to some quality-level Gordon films, start with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Or even if you don’t have a kid, consider watching this classic just so you can appreciate the full scope of the talented legend that was Stuart Gordon.
By Amylou Ahava
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